6-0. Canadian Champions and Voyageurs Cup holders for just a few more weeks until the new champion is crowned on May 29th (hopefully Montreal, I don't care for either team, but Vancouver never winning is the best long running gag in Canadian football). Toronto FC are a team so bad, even Sportsnet doesn't want them, this game shunted off to their recently acquired Score channel.
But time to move on, forget all about that, not dwell on the past, and definitely not look back past the police tape at the corpse left behind. There's now a very straight forward and well spaced out league campaign to focus on. Plenty of time for drills to be run, tape to be watched and lessons to be learnt in training, and for well rested players to put all that into action on the pitch, and unless injuries hit, no easy excuses for poor performances. Worth the trade off of not having the shiny trophy to distract from what promises to be a long trying few months? Maybe. We'll see. That will be the storyline shortly, but first it's a quick two game western road trip, Colorado followed by San Jose on Wednesday, to finish off a 6 games in 18 days busy stretch.
That should give a bit of an advantage to the Rapids as Ryan Nelsen's attempt to play it cute, do neither this nor that, and rest some but not all of his team mean there'll be plenty of players taking heavy legs into the altitude of Commerce City. That will be offset by the large injury list that the Rapids have had to deal with all season, still very much a factor, though one that has been offset by some impressive performances from the backups and rookies that have been forced into action, the Rapids depth a good deal better than TFC's has been so far this season.
It's difficult to know what to expect really, given the injuries this is on paper the easiest opponent TFC have faced so far this season, but TFC have struggled historically at the Dick. But then this isn't your Father's Colorado Rapids, they've finally moved on form the Conor Casey era, something the reds are no doubt relieved about as he's been a very large thorn in their side over the years, as he was again in the Philadelphia game. Now, under Oscar Pareja, it's a more modern 4-3-3 (at least when everyone's healthy it is) emphasizing pressing high up the pitch. The fact that in his second year, after a bit of a struggle in his first year and another clearout in his second off season making a very clean break from the Gary Smith era, his squad has been able to weather the injury storm and more or less hold their own is a good sign, and something that Ryan Nelsen will hopefully have the ability and the time to replicate.
If he can, well a big, definitively Payne/Nelsen era part of that will be Matías Laba. It was confirmed by Ryan Nelsen that his t's have been crossed and his i's dotted so he's fully ready to go and could well find his way directly into the starting lineup given TFC's struggles over the last few games in midfield. Exactly where he does that will be interesting to see, as probably the best of TFC's midfielders has been Jeremy Hall and Nelsen seems to believe in rewarding those who play well.
There's a few options, first up would be a return to the 2 dm formation we saw in the first few games, With Justin Braun probably still out (though he did apparently travel with the team so who knows) and Andrew Wiedeman looking particularly anonymous in the last couple of games, it's not like there's a reliable second forward alongside Robert Earnshaw, so why not go back to what worked surprisingly well in the first few games, with Laba filling the Terry F Dunfield role alongside Hall.
Another option would be to stick to the same formation, but have Laba in one of the wide positions, a less flamboyant and attacking but much more reliable (presumably) option than either Reggie Lambe or John Bostock. A third would be for Laba to take Hall's spot and move Hall back to cover one of the full back spots, he wasn't great there last season, but right now Ryan Richter and Ashtone Morgan both look badly in need of a break, Hall may be the one to provide that cover. Wherever Laba plays, it will be interesting to see what kind of effect he can have, all I'd say is let's not get our hopes up for some kind of miracle from him.
What can we say for certain about tomorrow's lineup? Joe Bendik will be back in goal and given how Danny Califf struggled to have a positive impact on Wednesday, I can't see him breaking up the Darren O'Dea and Gale Agbossoumonde pairing, though I do still think if TFC have a lead going into the last 20 minutes or so, it may be worth bringing him on to help see out squeaky bum time. Hall will be out there somewhere, as will Luis Silva and Robert Earnshaw.
The rest is very much up for grabs, Braun, Darel Russell, Hogan Ephraim and Logan Emory were all healthy enough to make the trip, unlike Dunfield and Richard Eckersley. Whether they're fit enough to start is another question, but you'd have to think Russell and Emory would get in the team at full back if they are, and Braun's the best option we have up front to partner Earnshaw, so may well get in there as well. Jonathan Osorio's definitely worth a shout as an option in midfield as well after being one of the few players who wasn't horrible on Wednesday (yay for low bars).
Whoever plays is going to have to put up a hell of a lot stronger and smarter fight than we saw on Wednesday. The league's all we've got now, fans may be able to accept that as for the best, but only if there's at the very least visible progress through the season, ideally plenty of tangible things to point to, wins and points and all that. Getting rid of the distraction for the players is all well and good, but the flipside of that is it also gets rid of a very enjoyable distraction for the fans. You've killed off any hopes of a trophy and got yourself an easier season, now, while the body's still warm, it's time to start taking advantage of it.